Two takes on The Glen and reflecting on Buddy Baker
Road course racing in NASCAR these days seems to drudge up the drama as much as, if not more than, plate racing and short track races. The pendulum swings more in each driver's direction, thus more talent and mistakes go on showcase at tracks like Watkins Glen, where the Sprint Cup Series and Xfinity Series raced this weekend. Here are three short takes from this week.
Gordon and Stewart are snake-bitten
Yet again, two of NASCAR's biggest stars fell short on expectations at a track where both have excelled. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart both started in the top 5 of the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen and looked like they could right the ships of their strange seasons.
Instead, Stewart fell out of the race on lap 56 of 90, when a piece of the No. 14 Chevy broke and let all the grease out of the rear gear - he finished 43rd. Stewart's last-place finish came on the one-year anniversary of the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. Ward Jr. died at Canandaigua Motorsports Park last August 9th, when he got close to Stewart's sprint car to accost him after a wreck and the car hit him. Authorities cleared Stewart of wrongdoing, but Ward Jr.'s family still blames Stewart and filed a wrongful death suit against him last week.
The accident with Stewart happened on the eve of last year's Watkins Glen Sprint Cup race and Stewart skipped that event and the next two. He hasn't run well in NASCAR since then and his 2015 campaign has been simply awful. The last couple of weeks, Stewart and his team have shown some life with three-straight top 5 qualifying runs and
Gordon's farewell 2015 season has been just as perplexing. Gordon announced his retirement just before the start of this season and after an astounding 2014 campaign that saw four wins, 14 top 5s, 23 top 10s, and a championship run that got derailed very late in the 2014 Chase. This season has seen Gordon mixed up in several wrecks and not really running up front. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team does not have the spark of a year ago. Nonetheless, Gordon looked great as a race day pick at Watkins Glen after a great Saturday qualifying run. Not so much.
Gordon started 5th, never got higher than that, pitted for major adjustments early, and then the day went off the rails. The team found a leak in the brake line and had to lose four laps in the pits repairing it. They finished 41st. Gordon is only eight points ahead of 14th-in-points Clint Bowyer (who holds the last position in Chase contention based on points), so he has a small points cushion to qualify for the Chase without a win. With Gordon's bad
The irony of conflict
Joey Logano won both the Sprint Cup Series and Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen this weekend. The biggest story after Saturday's race, however, was not Logano's win, but Regan Smith's confrontation of Ty Dillon afterwards. Dillon spun two different drivers in the race - Smith and also his own Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard - on two different restarts entering sharply-angled Turn 1. After Smith grabbed Dillon's collar post-race and the two tried to shove each other, Dillon was apologetic in an
Interestingly enough, Dillon was on the receiving end of such a zealous on-track move in 2013. Chase Elliott spun Dillon in the final turn at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park to win his first Camping World Truck Series race. Dillon objected afterwards, saying the move was too aggressive, especially since he himself was going for the championship and Elliott was not.
Smith, who barely had championship hopes coming into the race, probably has none now after not only the contact with
These things come full circle for drivers and quickly. One race, a driver is made for getting run over. The next race, they are running someone else over. Both Smith and Dillon had reason to be mad at how things turned out Saturday and the chance they meet again on the track is probably quite high.
RIP - Gentle Giant
NASCAR great Buddy Baker, 74, passed away early this morning from an inoperable tumor in his lungs. He only recently even announced that he was sick and stepped down from his co-hosting role on the Sirius/XM NASCAR channel. He may be better remembered by younger fans like me for his role on TV and, in more recent years, radio, as a great NASCAR analyst. But he held a big wheel in his long driving career that stretched from 1959 to 1992 (like Richard Petty's).
The son of early NASCAR champ Buck Baker made 700 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts with 19 wins, 202 top 5s, and 311 top 10s. He took the 1980 Daytona 500 in a famous black and grey No. 28 "Grey Ghost" over a youngster named Dale Earnhardt. He won all but one of his races at big, fast tracks like Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Michigan. He was all about the high-speed tracks and helped coach a young Ryan Newman to many of his early poles and race wins. Baker's lone short track triumph was in 1979 at Martinsville.
I never had the chance to meet him, but have read and heard that he was a heck of a guy and a real hoot of a story teller. I read this week that he was happily watching a DVD of the races that he won - a DVD NASCAR pressed and delivered to him.
Baker seemingly died in a happy, satisfied peace. In his final address to his loyal listeners in early July he said,
"Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I'm not saying goodbye, just `Talk to you later.'"
Cancer took away a fantastic broadcaster and human being in Steve Byrnes this year. Now it has claimed excellent driver. host, and man Buddy Baker. Say a prayer for those that are close to him and say both his and Byrnes' names with smiles.